Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Our breastfeeding story...this is kinda long

A year ago, I thought I was invincible. As my pregnancy hormones ramped up in the first trimester, my rheumatoid arthritis symptoms went away, and I totally pushed out of my mind that diagnosis I got just a few short months before finding out I was expecting. It never crossed my mind that I wouldn't be able to breastfeed my baby for a year like I hoped to do, or that pumping wouldn't go as it should, or a myriad of other "what-ifs". I just figured things would go well, and I'd be able to feed my baby as nature intended. I knew a lot of women struggled with breastfeeding, but I naively assumed that I wouldn't be one of them.

Pregnancy drew to an end, and I started to remember the reality that was my RA. Realistically, my symptoms would come back, possibly even worse than before, and I'd have to take meds that weren't safe for breastfeeding. But, once I held my precious Zoey in my arms, all thoughts of anything but warm-snuggly-squishy-newborn thoughts left my head. Nursing went fine in the hospital. She wasn't hungry yet, per se, but she was able to latch well, and she made enough wet/dirty diapers to keep the nurses off our backs.

When we got home, things were a whole different story. My milk hadn't yet come in, and my baby was STARVING. Ranting, raving, mad, give-me-some-damn-food-woman, hongry. The few drops of colostrum she was getting were supposed to hold her over until the mama milk factory kicked into production, but she was having none of it. In a moment of desperation, I gave her about an ounce of formula (damn you, formula companies, for sending out all those free samples to expecting moms!). She eagerly drank it, but then the guilt set in, and Aaron griped at me for giving her any, and well...we were just a hot mess. I spent a good part of our first couple of days at home frustrated and bawling, because my baby couldn't get enough to eat, and therefore screamed her fool head off, but everyone was basically telling me that formula was poison, and it would ruin our breastfeeding relationship, blah blah blah. (Side note: I'm crying right now as I type this, however many months after the fact. It was a tough time, for sure!)

On Tuesday morning (Zoey was born on Saturday morning), our wonderful doula and lactation counselor, Rhonda, came by for a visit. My milk still hadn't come in, and Miss Fussypants was in the middle of one of her colossal fits of rage. Rhonda could clearly see I was about to lose it. She suggested that Zoey and I go take a nap together, skin-to-skin, and she sent Aaron out to the store for a nipple shield to see if that would help Zoey latch on longer so she could get more colostrum. Well, wouldn't you know, when Zoey and I woke up from our nap, I was leaking milk all over the place. Praise the Lord! We basically never looked back from that point forward--Zoey was a great nurser, and we never had latch or supply issues, and everything was peachy-keen, for the most part. I was still in denial that my RA symptoms would ever prevent me from breastfeeding.

Our only "problem" was that Zoey was such a frequent nurser. It was a rare occasion for her to even go 45 minutes to an hour without eating during the day. Even though it was a little bit of an inconvenience, I loved the time with her, and never thought much about it until Aaron's family came to visit over Easter weekend. Their comments and suggestions made me start to doubt my ability to adequately feed my child, and made me wonder if we were doing something wrong, or if my baby was abnormally hungry, or what. (And if they're reading this, please know that I don't hold anything against you - I know everything that was asked or said was coming from a completely innocent place and you meant nothing by it - it was just another internal struggle I encountered as we tried to find our way with breastfeeding.)

Also around this time, I started pumping to work on my freezer stash. I had bought a gently-used Medela pump from Zoey's doctor's wife, who had only used it when her youngest was in the NICU for a few weeks, then she passed it on to me. I struggled to even get an ounce, even pumping when my breasts were full. I kept telling myself that it would take some time to get used to the pump, or that once I was away from my baby, I'd produce better for pumping, etc., etc., but I always had it in the back of my mind that some women just do not produce for the pump, at all. Their supply is fine for their baby, but not so much for the pump. I seriously worried not about my RA symptoms at that point, but about what I would do when I returned to work. My baby would have to eat, and I would have to pump, and the whole thing was stressing me out.

The very day Zoey turned 8 weeks old, she and I attended a bridal shower at a local park. My friend Tiffany asked me how my RA was doing now that I'd had Zoey, and I commented that things couldn't be better. We were just trying to get her used to a bottle with what little milk I could pump in preparation for me going back to work. I kid you not, by the time the shower was over, my wrist hurt so bad that I could barely lift Zoey and get her car seat back in my vehicle. Driving home was pure torture, and I pretty much spent the rest of the night and all day Sunday in and out of the fetal position because my pain was so bad. I know it's hard to believe - it's just a wrist, right? - but unless you've been there, it's impossible to describe or relate. I couldn't even pick up my baby, and that hurt worst of all.

First thing Monday morning, I called my rheumatologist's office, hoping they would give me a shot of Prednisone or something that would be a quick fix for the pain, because long-term treatment would require a whole slew of laboratory tests and office visits and patient education before committing to anything specific. Unfortunately, my doctor was on vacation, and when his (awesome) nurse talked to him for me, the only thing he could suggest was maxing out my dosage of naproxen (Aleve). Even a small dose of naproxen is considered "iffy" for breastfeeding, unlike ibuprofen or acetominophen...and a huge, horse-sized dose like I was instructed to take was definitely unsafe for Zoey. I had to make a decision right then and there--I did not want to stop nursing my baby, but I also had to be able to physically take care of her.

Oh, and did I mention that Zoey and I were supposed to be leaving for our trip to Oklahoma in 2 days? And that I'd be flying alone with her? And that she was supposed to get her 2-month shots the day before we left? Oh, and that we'd be staying with my parents, who were insisting we go to church with them, but who clearly did not understand the fact that my child cannot go a whole church service's length of time without nursing? And the conservative Baptist church they attend surely would not condone breastfeeding during the service? Annnnd...we were also traveling to Tulsa to visit my extended family (a 3-hour trip by car)...and I was dreading having to insist that we stop to feed Zoey every so often if she wasn't asleep...have you traveled with my father? Oh my heavens. I was absolutely overwhelmed.

I felt like the cards were stacked against Zoey and I continuing breastfeeding, but the bottom line was, I had to do something to help my pain so that I'd be able to take care of her. I started taking the naproxen, and we stopped breastfeeding on May 16, 2011, when Zoey was 8 weeks and 2 days old.

She handled her first vaccination like a pro, and we made our trip to Oklahoma just fine. We went through a lot of bottles and a couple of different types of formula during our trip, just trying to figure things out, but overall, Zoey handled the transition like a champ. I was able to get quite a bit of time with just me and Zoey during that trip, and I have to admit that I spent the majority of that time crying. I was so sad about having to stop nursing, and I felt like a total failure. I still kind of do. I keep wondering if I had just "stuck it out" a few more days with my RA pain, if the flare-up would have subsided, and I would have been able to keep nursing all this time. Then again, Zoey may have had to go on formula anyway when I went back to work, since I wasn't producing squat when pumping. A bunch of what-ifs that I'll never know the answer to.

I hate the judging looks I get from breastfeeding advocates when I tell them we aren't nursing anymore. I don't usually feel like giving the whole story, so I know they're thinking we just gave up, we didn't have enough support, I'm a selfish mom, so on, and so forth. My heart just about broke in two when Zoey's doctor was praising me for breastfeeding, and I had to tell him we were now on formula. I got that look from him. (By the way, quitting cold turkey was the worst thing I could have possibly done for myself - not only was it physically painful, it was emotionally painful, as well. That sharp drop in hormones when I quit producing milk just about sent me to the looney bin. At the very least, I should have bought stock in Kleenex - I was a crying mess for a long time!)

Anyway, I just wanted to give my breastfeeding struggle a voice. Writing it all out has been somewhat therapeutic for me, and my number one goal for our next child is to nurse for longer than 8 weeks, but to also know that if I can't, because of my RA, then not to beat myself up about it and feel like a miserable failure, because that's pretty much what happened this time. I'm still bitter about it and hard on myself. I need to be confident in my ability to feed my baby, and not worry so much about what others think - I need to be my baby's best advocate, and regardless of the situation or people involved, I need to have the courage to speak up for her needs, and put my insecurities aside.

If you made it through all this, thanks for reading. :) A lot of tears were shed while writing it, so if anyone has any similar experiences or words of encouragement, I'd sure love to hear them.


  1. Jimmie -- listen, you should know that any breastfeeding advocate who judges you harshly, whether or not she knows all of the facts, has not worked with enough moms. I was a lot more judgmental in my early days of working as a doula, and working with lots of moms with lots of different experiences has make me a LOT more understanding of the fact that different families have different needs!

  2. Jimmie, thanks for sharing! You may know I have a lot of mantras I live by, and this is a perfect example of one of them--that is, that YOU know what's best for YOUR family and YOUR baby. You are an awesome mom and I know we mommies always second-guess ourselves....but don't! As a bf advocate, I think it's wonderful that you got to nurse your baby for as long as you did...AND I think it's great you shared your story so people can focus less on the judging, and remember that formula is NOT poison, it has very good reasons for existing! (It's just the formula companies' practices that are poisonous.) =)